ALBANI, Francesco
(b. 1578, Bologna, d. 1660, Bologna)

The Phaethon Legend

Palazzo Odescalchi Giustiniani, Bassano Romano

The picture shows the view of the Galleria, looking south. Between the doors the scene depicting the Sirens is visible.

Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637) was one of the most brilliant, and knowledgeable lovers of art in early seventeenth-century Rome. He assembled a renowned collection of roughly 1.800 works of classical sculpture and 600 paintings, among them eleven of Caravaggio's most important works. He purchased a villa at Bassano Romano in 1595 which was then thoroughly remodeled and enlarged. The artists who painted there between 1595 and 1604 all worked in the Mannerist style.

The north wing of the enlarged palace was erected in 1607-09 and the painted decoration was accomplished in 1609-10. There are three rooms in the north wing, the Sala della Felicità Eterna (painted by Paolo Guidotti in 1610), the Sala di Diana (painted by Domenichino in 1609) and the Galleria (painted by Francesco Albani and assistants in 1609-10).

In the Galleria, Albani painted the legend of Phaethon, the youth who disrupted the path of the sun. The protagonists in Albani's wall pictures are seen reacting with violent gestures and upward gazes at the central event of the fall of Phaethon on the ceiling. The entire Phaethon legend, as related in Ovid's Metamorphoses, is illustrated on the ceiling and walls in episodes that are part dramatic, part lyrical. Albani designed the eight scenes on the walls as imaginary tapestries.

Albani's cycle was highly praised through the whole of the eighteenth century. Later the Phaethon cycle and its painter came to be forgotten, and have only now rediscovered by art historian and appreciated anew.